According to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn, search and rescue crews pulled out all the stops to rescue a hunter who complained of heart-related symptoms while hunting in an extremely rugged area located south of Bald Mountain between Pete’s Hole and Horse Creek Mesa.
The hunter Dr. Meredith Lee Scott, a resident of Shell, is a thoracic surgeon. Deputies received a call from a cell phone at 4 a.m. on Oct. 19 alerting them that the doctor was complaining of extreme chest pain and may need to be Life-Flighted out of the area where he was hunting with his son and another man. The caller, who told deputies he was also acting as a guide, walked for 30 minutes before he found an area with cell phone reception where he could call for help.
“People think that if you have a cell phone, you can call in Life Flight,” said Blackburn. “What they often don’t realize is that Life Flight has very specific criteria that must be met before they are willing to fly in. In this case, we did not have exact GPS coordinates so they would not fly in.”
According to Blackburn, pilot Todd Herman flew a fixed wing plane into the area in an attempt get a positive GPS coordinate. A short time later, Curtis Abraham flew a helicopter into the area with North Search and Rescue team member Scott Allred onboard.
“We sent in Captain Scott Allred because he has extensive military training that we thought would help with the landing,” said Blackburn.
Allred, a former Blackhawk flight operations specialist, helped Abraham scout out landing zones in what he said was extremely rugged terrain where there were very few options for landing the craft safely. At one point, Abraham landed the helicopter and let Allred out to scout on foot for a landing zone located closer to the patient.
Allred said he sensed an extreme emergency when he saw the patient and suggested that Abraham fly him directly to Lovell rather than to wait for Life Flight to arrive.
“We are taught that there is a golden hour in rescue,” explained Allred, “where chances of survival are greatly increased if we can get the patient advanced medical care within the first hour of the incident.”
Allred noted that due to the complexities created by the rugged terrain, the patient wasn’t actually flown to the hospital for approximately three hours.
When the initial call came in to 911 at approximately 4 a.m., a ground crew of SAR volunteers began their hike into the area.
“If you look on the map, they were located only about four inches from the main road, but because the terrain was so rugged, it took more than an hour to hike in to the location,” said Allred.
Since there wasn’t enough room for both Allred and the patient onboard the helicopter, Allred stayed behind where he and the other SAR volunteers helped the other members of the hunting party pack up their camp and horses and exited the area on horseback.
The patient was taken to North Big Horn Hospital where he was stabilized and Life-Flighted to Billings for additional care.
Allred said the conditions were “horrible” but had all of the elements of a “good search.”
“We used all of our resources. We had to locate the patient, coordinate with Life Flight and use private aircraft with pilots who had to push their comfort zone to find and rescue what appeared to be a life-threatened patient,” said Allred, who pointed out that rescues rarely occur on a perfect sunny day in easy terrain.
“The situation is never an easy one,” said Allred. “If it was easy for them to get out, they wouldn’t need our help.”
By Patti Carpenter